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Care and Comfort of the Newborn Foal
by Patricia Hampton - North Wind Arabians

It is such a wonderful moment when that new baby's wet little body first emerges from the mare! There is just no other feeling in the world quite like it. But now you are responsible for a beautiful new life, what do you do next?

After the new foal is dry and nursing, watch for the black "meconium" pass from its intestines. If the foal is straining and no stool is passing, put the foal's head in a corner and hold the baby there with your left arm and administer an enema very, very gently with your right. Once the meconium and one normal, light colored stool passes, the immediate worries are over. With the bedding clean and a few hours of sleep, its time to consider the continuing care and raising of the baby. Your vet can draw a blood sample for IgG in twenty-four hours and it is nice to have your vet just give the baby a quick health check. Hopefully, you have considered safe fencing and have a run or paddock where the new baby can exercise. I like to keep my mares and foals in stalls at night and turn them out during the day for the first two weeks, then, if the weather is warm, will give them access to the runs off the barn at night. The foals and lead to the turnout area. The mare will stay close. If you halter the mare, the foal may go anywhere and the mare will be frantic. Since the foal has no idea how to lead, use a soft cotton (never nylon, which can burn) lead rope. Put the halter on the foal's head, pet him and tell him over and over what a good baby he is. Attach the lead rope with the snap and drape it around his behind, making a loop over his back. Hold the loop so you can pull him forward with it using your right hand, while holding the lead under his head loosely in your left. Continue to praise the baby as you scoot him along. Once you are in the turn out area, gently remove the halter. Never leave a halter on a baby. That practice is dangerous to a grown horse, tragedy in the making for a foal. If you treat them gently and with kindness, they are not hard to catch.

Starting on the foal's first or second day, it is good to start feeding yogurt. Most of my foals seem to prefer strawberry or strawberry banana. Suck it into a 60 ml dosing syringe (with the large tip not intended for injections). At first the babies are put off by the hard tip on the syringe and it is generally necessary to back them into a corner, put a finger in the corner of the foal's mouth, slip the tip of the syringe in its mouth and gently inject some yogurt. In a few days, they all figure out how to suck it from the syringe and begin to really look forward it.

During these first few days, start picking up baby's feet. Don't hold them long at first, just a few seconds. As the baby relaxes with having its feet handled, start gently tapping them as you hold them. This is also a good time to introduce clippers. Cordless ones are the easiest to use. You need not even clip but the foal, but get it accustomed to the sound and vibration. Teach it to allow you to rub its body gently, wipe it with towels anything you can think of that will cause a disturbance if left till later. Only approach one subject at a time with the baby, but alway think about how much easier it is to teach a ninety pound foal to pick up his feet than a six hundred pound yearling! Be kind and gentle with everything you do - this is a baby and his attention span is very short, but it is a very good time for his schooling to begin.

As the mare comes into her foal heat, you can expect the dreaded "foal heat" diarrhea. My vet assures me that it actually has nothing to do with the mare's coming into heat, but is caused by a bacteria the foal is born with that matures at about the same time. Feeding yogurt can reduce the severity of the diarrhea. If the foal still has very loose stool, you can help by adding Probios to the yogurt. If the diarrhea is severe, call your veterninarian before the foal dehydrates. I find it helpful to goop a thick layer of vaseline on the foal's behind at the onset of the diarrhea. It can really burn the little fellow's behind and even burn off the hair. A thick layer of petroleum jelly can save him a lot of discomfort and keep the hair from being lost. If the loose stool manages to get on the baby anyway, a few paper towels and some warm water will clean it right off.

As your foal grows, treat him with kindness and respect. Give him the love a baby needs and when you discipline him, be gentle. Your voice is a great tool for discipline, your hands are wonderful tools for teaching gentleness and giving to pressure in a kind way. Since all advanced training centers around giving to pressure teaching your foal to move away with a gentle nudge is the beginning foundation for many lessons to come. Above all, be considerate of your mare and her baby and let them enjoy you as you enjoy them.

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